Monday, November 18, 2013


Sometimes in an everyday day there comes along a bit of lagniappe, beyond the bright sun down the stairs and the call from a long-ago friend---a charming and beguiling thing which just causes your breath to slow and all the sounds around you to grow still...   

This is one such, a lovely missive which has been somewhere in the world since I was four years old, and which, until now, had hovered unseen and unread, just beyond my vision, like a quiet sunbeam across the rug.    I’m not familiar with the writer, and I cannot wait to delve into her words---I’m afraid if I find her right this minute, I might just dive in like digging a spoon into a whole pie.

I just cannot tell you, so see for yourself.   A Thank You note for a Christmas gift from a friend, written by Sylvia Townsend Warner to Alyse Gregory, in December, 1946.    

Dearest Alyse,

Usually one begins a thank-letter by some graceless comparison, by saying, I have never been given such a very scarlet muffler, or, This is the largest horse I have ever been sent for Christmas. But your matchbox is a nonpareil, for never in my life have I been given a matchbox. Stamps, yes, drawing-pins, yes, balls of string, yes, yes, menacingly too often; but never a matchbox. Now that it has happened I ask myself why it has never happened before. They are such charming things, neat as wrens, and what a deal of ingenuity and human artfulness has gone into their construction; for if they were like the ordinary box with a lid they would not be one half so convenient. This one though is especially neat, charming, and ingenious, and the tray slides in and out as though Chippendale had made it.

But what I like best of all about my matchbox is that it is an empty one. I have often thought how much I should enjoy being given an empty house in Norway, what pleasure it would be to walk into those bare wood-smelling chambers, walls, floor, ceiling, all wood, which is after all the natural shelter of man, or at any rate the most congenial. And when I opened your matchbox which is now my matchbox and saw that beautiful clean sweet-smelling empty rectangular expanse it was exactly as though my house in Norway had come true; with the added advantage of being just the right size to carry in my hand. I shut my imagination up in it instantly, and it is still sitting there, listening to the wind in the firwood outside. Sitting there in a couple of days time I shall hear the Lutheran bell calling me to go and sing Lutheran hymns while the pastor's wife gazes abstractedly at her husband in a bower of evergreen while she wonders if she remembered to put pepper in the goose-stuffing; but I shan't go, I shall be far too happy sitting in my house that Alyse gave me for Christmas.

Oh, I must tell you I have finished my book—begun in 1941 and a hundred times imperilled but finished at last. So I can give an undivided mind to enjoying my matchbox.


P.S. There is still so much to say...carried away by my delight in form and texture I forgot to praise the picture on the back. I have never seen such an agreeable likeness of a hedgehog, and the volcano in the background is magnificent.


Kathy said...

What a charming letter. You can tell what kind of person write it. Thank you so much for sharing it. This is something I will remember for a long time.

jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Oh my Rachel, How sad that we do not write Like this anymore. The gracious and lovely description of her very small gift is beautiful. How times have changed. It is a different time when everything we do is rushed and we seldom give the time to express out heart's true feelings in a letter much less a thank you. Thank you for sharing this very special thank you that was handwritten so sweetly.

Love, Jeanne